The West German government is: * Long-suffering toward Reagan administration accusers. * Concerned by Soviet failure to talk seriously about European nuclear arms control.
* Exasperated by some backbencher sentiment against NATO nuclear weapons within its own party ranks.
The three relationships are interwoven -- and the adjectives describing Bonn's reactions to the three are close to interchangeable.
The Reagan's administration shots at West Germany and Western Europe in the past week include: National Security Council member Richard Pipes complaining that West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher was pushing Washington into negotiations with Moscow, Reagan security adviser Richard Allen decrying "better red than dead" neutralism in Europe, and various officials scolding West Germany for slacking off militarily and getting too dependent on the Soviet Union for gas in the pending Siberian gas-for-pipeline deal.
At Cabinet level the West German response has been as pokerfaced as ever since Bonn's initial Reagan euphoria gave way to the more chronic perplexity over American volatility. The verbal defense of West Germany is being left to Secretary of State Alexander M. HAig Jr. and the West Germans' devout wish is that Haig's pragmatists will eventually prevail over the administration's right-wing ideologues.
In the meantime, West Germany is being hypercautious about irritating Reagan. It is pledging allegiance to the US at every possible occasion. It is hoping that a slanging match can be avoided before Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's May visit to Washington --and that then an affable Reagan and a best-behavior Chancellor Schmidt will hit if off.
A measure of just how worried Bonn is about US-West German relations is the curious reversal of roles at present. It is Social Democratic politicians who have not hidden their criticism of America in the past (such as ex-General Secretary Egon Bahr) who are now praising the US alliance most effusively. And it is officials who have often been on the same side as the US in basic East-West issues who are fuming (very privately) that some Reagan officials lecture West Germany as if it were an American "satellite."
Bonn, like all of Western Europe, is relieved that the US is not closing off the option of further East-West talks and arms-control negotiations. It would have preferred that the Americans make a gesture by proceeding with the routine (but now postponed) review of the strategic arms limitation treaty that had been scheduled for Geneva March 25. But it understands the slowness of current policy formulation in Washington. And it thinks there is still time for sober superpower contacts to avert an all-out arms race.
That time is slipping by, however, and so far Moscow has shown no more sense of urgency about this than has the US. In the view from Bonn the Kremlin is exploiting all the American tough talk to make propaganda points and cast itself as a contrasting champion of reasonableness. What it is not doing, however, is making any serious bid for European arms control.
In this interpretation Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev's February proposal for continued arms control talks was a good beginning. His offer of a moratorium on medium-range missiles was not serious, however, since this would leave a ratio of some 200 2,700-mile-range Soviet SS-20s to zero NATO land-based missiles of equal range.
Further, the moratorium was obviously not even a lead-on to real negotiations , since there has been absolutely no diplomatic follow-up. The Brezhnev letters to European leaders only repeated verbatim privately what Brezhnev had already said publicly. nor do Soviet diplomats have any instructions on the topic; they are reduced to the same parroting.
Moreover, besides snubbing the Western European governments, Moscow is concentrating on trying to turn Western European public opinion against official policy on nuclear weapons. Far from trying to split Western European governments from the US government with a serious arms control offer, it is trying to split Western European opinion from Western European governments.
Most conspicuously, three heavyweight Soviet quasi-diplomats have been circulating in the West German public in recent days painting the Soviet Union as the innocent and the US as the fanatic in the arms race. This would all be good clean fun if West German diplomats could similarly proclaim their contrary view to Soviet society. It is an insult, however, when Soviet diplomats have nothing to say to their Western counterparts and foreign commissar Leon Trotsky's old technique of radicalizing the foreign masses against their bourgeois is governments is employed.
This said, the West German government has to admit that in 1981 a growing number of Social Democratic Party backbenchers are prone to accept the Soviet portrayal of NATO as the sinner and Moscow the saint in the arms race. Four local or provincial SPD organizations (Bonn, Baden-Wurttemberg, the Saarland, and West Berlin), plus the party's youth wing, have recently challenged the federal SPD's support for balancing up NATO nuclear weapons to match Soviet weapons. And some SPD Bundestag backbenchers even invited roving Soviet missionary Georgi A. Arbatov to address them about Soviet virtues during the Soviet Central Committee member's tour of West Germany. (The SPD leadership scotched this meeting.)
An idealistic, pacifist strain has always been present in the SPD, but until 1981 the party leadership had largely channeled this enthusiasm into a policy of mutual verified arms control rather than unilateral renunciation of weapons systems by the West.
The difference this year probably springs from three sources: Chancellor Schmidt's landslide victory at the polls last October, longtime SPD leadership tactics of achieving consensus by saying as little as possible about armament, and the new American truculence.
Schmidt's 45-seat majority means that backbenchers can criticize or perhaps even vote against their chancellor without toppling him. They are thus freed from the need to mold practical party compromises even on issues they feel strongly about.
Besides, it is an article of faith among Social Democrats that the SPD's mission is to prevent Germany from ever causing another war. And in a once-pacifist party that never got over its embarrassment at finally acquiescing in West German armament, peace has often been equated with unilateral renunciation of weapons rather than mutual balanced deterrence.
In this context the new American rhetoric, with its echoes of the Vietnam war , leaves a number of younger West Germans seeing little difference between Moscow's suppression of rebel Afghans and Washington's desire to suppress rebel Salvadorans and perhaps even nonrebel Cubans.
Up through 1980 Schmidt balanced the defense gyroscope of American-West German, Soviet-West German, and inner-SPD relations skillfully. Now the three threaten to spin off in different directions.
Things are not yet out of control. The overwhelming majority of the parliamentary SPD, as well as the overwhelming majority of the West German public, supports Schmidt's policy of a weapons balance in Europe, at the lowest possible level.
The Bonn government fears, however, that any ultimate American intransigence on arms control -- especially if combined with some Soviet shift away from propaganda exploitation of the American position to serious arms control readiness -- could destroy the equilibrium in West Germany and Western Europe.
This explains the Bonn government's long-suffering concern, and exasperation.